Young members of an Armenian opposition party continue to demand the resignation of the country’s minister of education, science, culture and sports over a proposed reform that they claim will jeopardize “national values.”
The ministry headed by Arayik Harutiunian, a key figure in the country’s 2018 “velvet revolution” and one of the closest allies of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, wants the teaching of the Armenian language, literature, and history to become optional in universities.
In doing so officials cite international experience and explain that the subjects are sufficiently present in school curricula.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or Dashnaktsutyun) as well as other conservative groups oppose the proposed reform, considering that it undermines the system of “national education.”
Members of the ARF youth wing began to demand Harutiunian’s resignation last week when they staged round-the-clock sits-ins in front of the ministry.
Harutiunian has defied the call, refusing to step down. Last week he accused the ARF of trying to scuttle the reform. Prime Minister Pashinian effectively threw his political weight behind his minister as he met with young Dashnaks on Friday. He said that Harutiunian was conducting the policies of the government rather than those of his own in the education sector.
As protesters went from university to university in an attempt to drum up support for their demand, the minister said on Monday that he is in favor of discussing things.
“With groups that have such sincere concerns we, the ministry, are ready to sit down for days, months, weeks and discuss things and explain our positions. I think that after we clarified our position on the mandatory subjects, there was a drastic change in the demands on the agenda. They started to pay less attention to this topic and started to move on to more sensitive topics, which is normal,” the minister said.
Harutiunian apparently referred to the criticism voiced by the party regarding the state funding for an experimental street performance that it deemed offensive.
Controversy ensued earlier this month during an outdoor performance of a modernist play based on early 20th-century Armenian poetry.
Some Dashnaktsutyun members and other conservative groups accused the performers of “nontraditional” sexual orientation and unpatriotic behavior.
Another point of criticism concerns the partial funding by the Armenian government of a documentary telling about a former member of Armenia’s women’s weightlifting team Meline Duluzian, who changed her gender after emigrating to the Netherlands becoming Mel Duluzian.
Last week Pashinian explained to Dashnak protesters that the Armenian government funded only the part of the documentary that tells about the athletic achievements of Daluzian who twice became a European champion under Armenia’s flag.
Senior ARF member Artsvik Minasian, who took part in today’s protests, said that their struggle was against “anti-national phenomena.”
“What this ministry is implementing under Arayik Harutiunian contradicts the law. Yes, Dashnaktsutyun stands for defending and preserving the national identity and will stand by any movement that acts to drive out anti-national phenomena out of our reality,” Minasian noted.
Responding to criticism from the ARF, which was involved in the previous government as a junior coalition member, Minister Harutiunian said that “anti-national policies” were those that led to “corruption and illiteracy” in the education sphere under the previous administration.
Last week Pashinian spoke against divisiveness as he met with young Dashnak protesters. “I do not share the opinion that some people are ‘anti-national’ and some are ‘national’. There has never been a more national government in Armenia than ours,” Pashinian emphasized.
Meanwhile, the ARF accused the education minister of trying to drive a wedge between the party’s members in Armenia and abroad.